After the victory of the Leave-camp in the Brexit referendum in June 2016 and the defeat of Hillary Clinton in the presidential elections in America a few months later, many people feared that far-right parties might take over power in several EU-countries after the elections that were scheduled for 2017.
To avoid this horror scenario, my friend Baz Smith and I formed a group of Europeans and Americans who campaigned against populist parties in France, Germany and Austria. Although especially the campaign against Marine Le Pen in France was successful (she was crushed by Macron), I realised that more had to be done than organising series of separate campaigns. For this reason I created two pan-European hashtags that we could use to build a network of all those across Europe who support the EU and fight political extremism: #FollowBackProEU and the acronym #FBPE.
Soon after it was launched, FBPE rapidly spread on Twitter, especially in the UK, where it was picked up by various groups that tried to stop Brexit. The use of the hashtag for this purpose was obvious, since many people believed – for good reasons – that the outcome of the Brexit referendum was the result of far-right meddling in the campaign. Within a couple of months, thousands of people across the EU added FBPE to their Twitter name to show their support for our movement.
By the end of 2017 a few British magazines published articles about FBPE. That gave us a boost, especially when it was followed by a very positive article about our movement in The Guardian. An IT-expert estimated that in January 2018 at least 10,000 people used our hashtag.
Since then we have been attacked by Corbynistas – supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, who was in fact a Brexiteer – and far-right trolls. Our political opponents even created accounts that used FBPE as an acronym of “For Brexit Pro Exit”. Similar attacks were carried out in France by adherents of the far-left politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of “La France Insoumise”.
In the course of 2018, FBPE became a very influential movement. Guy Verhofstadt, at the time leader of all liberal MP’s in the European Parliament, promoted us on twitter and wrote that we should have an important role in talks about future developments in the European Union. Other influential politicians added #FBPE to their Twitter name and sympathised with our strive to support the EU and fight political extremism in Europe.
Since then we have been growing all the time. Supporters of #FBPE joined several anti-Brexit marches in the UK, and our hashtag was even used during political protests in Italy. Nowadays people from 42 countries have added #FBPE to their Twitter name or bio to show their support for our objectives; there are users on all continents.
In a separate development, members of @ProgressiveEur, the core of our movement, created Twitter accounts for several EU-member states. That was inevitable because thousands of #FBPE-users live in Mainland Europe and speak Dutch, German, French, Polish or Scandinavian languages. We also cooperate with #TheResistance (the American movement that supports the Democrats on social media) on a daily basis. For this purpose we have created a global account @FBPEGlobal. It is meant to connect and support all progressive movements around the world.
We were already planning #FBPE-meetings in the Netherlands and Germany, when the Covid-19 pandemic spread at such a fast rate that we had to cancel those meetings. The preparations of a #FBPE-meeting in Edinburgh had to be cancelled as well. Hopefully we can organise them next autumn.
Last but not least: all those, who support our strive to defend the EU and fight political extremism, and write columns, short stories or articles about FBPE-issues, can contact @ProgressiveEur or @AuroraBlogspot. Contributions in all languages that are spoken in the European Union are welcome.
Perron 5 in Arnhem, where we had our first #FBPE-meeting in December 2019.